Cyrus Lakdawala Interviewed at Georgia Chess News

An Interview with IM Cyrus Lakdawala

by Davide Nastasio was published March 1, 2019 at the GA CHESS NEWS website. http://georgiachessnews.com/2019/03/01/an-interview-with-im-cyrus-lakdawala/

The interview is excellent and was enjoyed immensely. Although aware of IM Lakdawala from his playing days, and knowing he was a prolific author considered controversial by some, I knew very little about him. The lack of knowledge was remedied by the interview found him to be a very interesting person with whom I would like to spend time.

The knock on Cyrus is the number of Chess books he has written. I visited the Gorilla and stopped after counting on my fingers and toes twice. I must admit to not having read any of the books. I do not even recall seeing one of his books in a bookstore. Yet his book published last summer, How Ulf Beats Black: Ulf Andersson’s Bulletproof Strategic Repertoire for White,

looks interesting, especially since I previously read, Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson’s Positional Masterpieces, by Jurgen Kaufeld and Guido Kern, published at the beginning of this decade and consider it to be a masterpiece.

The interview begins, “Life is full of surprises. Thanks to the unexpected alignment of Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter, I had the chance to interview Cyrus Lakdawala, likely the biggest writer in chess history. Some love him, and some definitely hate his writing style. Whatever your inclination is, don’t miss this interview, because in it we discover more about a great professional player who has worked in chess for decades, and who has dedicated his life to something he truly loves.
Generally when I don’t know what to give as a gift for Christmas, I give Lakdawala’s books. I remember once I found an incredible offer of Korchnoi’s Move by Move for something like $6, and bought some for Christmas.” One of the friends I gave the book to never played chess again, so I guess Lakdawala was pure enlightenment! I loved interviewing Lakdawala for the following reasons: he is really articulate, he shows a human side of chess in which we can all find ourselves, but most of all I felt the similarities with his writings and my own.

As always in my articles I will pause the interview from time to time to show some excerpts from the great books written by Lakdawala, Some of the games I found in his books are quite important for our development as chess players.”

Davide Nastasio: Could you tell for our readers how the chess journey began for you?

Cyrus Lakdawala: My father taught me how to play at age eight, and I have never forgiven him for it! I got immediately addicted, even though I didn’t display an iota of talent for the game.

DN: Who coached you when you were young?

CL: At first I only played my father (who was an A-player) and kids at school, but never had a formal coach. I was essentially self-taught from books — and I wasn’t a very good teacher, since my study was all over the place. Also, I was completely dishonest with myself, since at age eight, I strove to be the new Tal, which was a wee bit off the mark, since on the chess board I was the biggest dove of all time. When I was a kid, during summer vacation I desperately sought out strong competition and would walk miles to the shopping center bus stop, take a 45-minute bus trip to downtown Montreal, then take a 20-minute metro ride to the En Passant Chess Cafe. There I could play blitz with strong masters, like FM George Levtchouk (maybe I’m misspelling his name, if so, sorry George!) and GM Kevin Spraggett, and many others. I would play endless blitz games for stakes of 25 to 50 cents per game, which for a 13-year-old in 1973, was a fortune, since I only made $5 per week from my paper route. I was completely lopsided in playing strength with fast and slow time controls. I could hang with masters and even some titled players in blitz, yet in tournament play, I was still rated 1795 in over-the-board play when I was 17 years old, so it would be slightly dishonest to describe myself as a budding prodigy!

DN: Which books influenced you most in your formative years? (An excellent question for a prolific Chess writer)

CL: Five chess books deeply influenced me:
1. I don’t remember its name or its author, but it was a book on Capablanca’s games. Going through them, I craved to replicate Capa’s Mozartian perfection in my own games and always fell short.
Let me pause the interview here to point out that Lakdawala wrote a book on Capablanca!

And this is a game from that book which shows Lakdawala’s great teaching skills! (The game between Capa and A. Conde from Hastings 1919 follows)

And now back to the interview!

2. I read a book on Nimzowitsch’s games (I don’t remember the name or author of this one either and I’m wondering if I should up my daily dose of Ginko Biloba) and desperately tried to imitate Nimzo’s play, usually with disastrous results, since I would cleverly transfer my queen to a1 and then get mated on the other side of the board, or with great erudition I would overprotect my e5-pawn (just as Nimzowitsch taught) and then overlook my opponent’s response …Bxa1, chopping my now hanging queen.
3. I devoured Fischer’s 60 Memorable Games, and swore to be his next incarnation and play just like him. As you may have guessed, this vow didn’t come to fruition.
I need to pause the interview once again to show another book by Lakdawala on Fischer.

My idea to show entire games commented by Lakdawala has purpose to show the great deal we can learn from his format, thanks to his questions at the right moments.
4. In the summer of 1977, I read my buddy IM Tony Saidy’s

masterpiece: Battle of Chess Ideas

and was so inspired that I made the slightly questionable decision of striving to become a professional chess player, despite the fact that I was 17 years old and rated 1795. I have since demanded an apology from Tony for tricking me with his book.
5. In 1994, I was mired at a USCF rating of 2500 for several years and it felt as if I had reached my peek rating. Then to my great good fortune, I bought a copy of my buddy Jeremy Silman’s

Reassess Your Chess

as a teaching tool for my students, since I considered it a beginner’s book. To my great astonishment, the book shifted something which was previously jammed in my thinking process and my rating rocketed to nearly 2600 within the space of a very short time, which I completely attribute to Jeremy’s indispensable book. The reason Reassess Your Chess is the best-selling chess book of all time is that it may be the greatest chess book of all time. There is some hidden secret within it. Exactly what the essence of that secret is I can’t fathom, but it is there.
Again, I pause the interview to interject my own comments: I bought a 3rd edition of Silman, because I thought it was a classic. And I also bought the last edition, now I just need to find the time to read them!

DN: Now I’d like to ask you some questions about your books, because I know you are a prolific author. How did you select material for your own books?

CL: Sometimes I propose an idea and sometimes the publisher suggests one. I’m at the point right now where there is no time when I’m not simultaneously working on at least two books. For me, the books are all consuming and I think about them day and night. Since I began writing chess books, I filled up 77 yellow notepads with notes for my books. If I average about 650 notes per pad, that is a lot of notes. I can’t give you the exact number, because I already mentioned that I’m not very competent in math and am only able to count to 20.

DN: What is your philosophy for teaching?

CL: My philosophy for teaching is to never BS the student (or parent) and always ruthlessly tell them the truth — even when it hurts — which I do, since I’m not afraid of losing students by offending their parents. It is the nature of humans to crave praise, but false praise (which I see some teachers engage in) is harmful to the student. It’s a ruthless world out there and the student shouldn’t be congratulated if they didn’t prepare, lost 50 rating points in the tournament, ignored your opening advice and placed 40th in their section, yet some of the parents clap their hands in delight and tell the kid, “Great job! High five!” Instead, the student must be toughened with the truth. If the student is weak in a portion of the game or with a psychological aspect, I insist that they strive to fix the problem. The other issue is unrealistic expectations from parents. Their kid is lazy, 14 years old and rated 1400, yet they believe he or she is a prodigy and expect me to have the student break the 2200 barrier by the end of the year, achieve the IM title the following year and GM the year after that. I tell them this is impossible, yet love is blind and many parents believe their kid is the next Caruana or Carlsen.
Speaking of Carlsen, Lakdawala also wrote one Move by Move book on the World Champion.

DN: Do you have any advice for senior players?

CL: If we are the exquisitely carved porcelain doll, then old age is the hard stone floor when we are dropped, destined to smash into a thousand tiny shards. It’s difficult not to regard old age as a personal rebuke, since it is also a thief who slowly and brazenly embezzles our abilities over time. Survival in an unforgiving environment means having to make ruthless choices, so adjust your style to reduce calculation and complications, which exhaust us old guys. If you are an older player now way past your prime, you are most certainly better than your younger counterparts when it comes to decision-making and technical positions. So strive for these, rather than math-based situations. Our brains just don’t work as well as they did in our prime, so think about switching to the Caro-Kann and put your Dragons on the shelf. Factor in that your synapses don’t fire in the brain as fast as they used to and stop being the antlered buck who wants to smash heads, vying for dominance in the herd. Be sneaky, rather than forceful. So steer the game to logic-based positions, rather than irrational ones. Look, it isn’t all doom and gloom for us old guys and gals.

Davide then writes, “I’d like to pause the interview here to show Lakdawala can help also in the field of openings. He just mentioned the Caro-Kann for senior players, and he wrote a book on the Move by Move series.”

The game between A. Matanovic and T. Petrosian, Kiev, 1959 from the Caro-Kann book follows. Then the interview resumes:

With age comes the following:
1. Our experience translates to instant understanding in some positions, which youth and inexperience sorely lack.
2. With a slowing of our brain speed comes an increase of deceit, from decades of having been tricked ourselves. Young, inexperienced players can sometimes be easily tricked into positions which require experience and understanding, rather than calculation. I wrote in Play the London System,

“Old age and deceit overcome youth and talent,” and I meant it! So there are actual advantages to being old, and as the spokesperson for Farmer’s Insurance loves to repeat, “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

A writer cannot please everyone and must have thick skin to put his thoughts on paper, or digits on a screen. This is an example found on the internet:

maxharmonist

3 years ago

Cyrus Lakdawala is insufferable, his books being filled with endless and pointless meanderings of this sort (from the Kramnik book):

“The meek bishop backs off, does what he is told to do and goes where he is told to go. A beaten dog may still follow the cruel master’s command. In college, my first job was as an inept hotel clerk. When encountering daily traffic of unruly, spoiled hotel guests, my mouth would obediently respond, ‘Thank you, Sir, for your constructive criticism! Of course, Ma’am! Right away, Ma’am!’ As a pressure valve, my chafing mind, suffering from some strange, inward form of Tourette’s Syndrome, would add in the dark, silent realm of thought: ‘Bugger off (anatomically explicit expletives deleted)!'”

I am one of the readers who actually like “endless and pointless meanderings of this sort,” as they tell one much about the human being who has pointlessly meandered off endlessly. Some of my favorite books about Baseball have used a meandering regular season game as a backdrop for the author’s “meanderings,” which, when one cogitates a little, were the real reason for the book.

Because of reading this fabulous interview on the website of my state Chess magazine I intend on making it a point to read several of the author’s books, including this one since I have long been a Birdman:

It is obvious Lakdawala’s books have held their value. An example would be this book:

It is out of print and will set you back at least $83.44 on Amazon with some books priced over two hundred dollars. Obviously some readers like Cyrus Lakdawala’s books.

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The Chess Book Critic

It is ironic that in one respect we seem to be living in a golden age of chess books. It is ironic because “books” are giving way to “digits” on a machine, not to mention the possible diminution of chess because of so many negative facets of the game in this new century. There is the problem of so many non-serious drawn games, and the cheating crisis, not to mention the possibility of Kirsan the ET “winning” yet another term as FIDE President. Any one blow could be fatal. All three could mean oblivion for the Royal game. Today I put all of that out of my mind and write about chess books.
Decades ago I had an opening notebook in which games were written by my hand, along with clippings and copies of games in my esoteric choice of openings, such as the Fantasy variation against the Caro-Kann, 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3!?, a move played by World Champion Vassily Smyslov. The Legendary Georgia Ironman called my notebook “Bacon’s book of ‘Death Lines’.” The cover came off but like LM Brian McCarthy said, “It still has the meat!” Like most all of what I had collected over the years, it too, alas, is gone with the wind. There were no databases then, and no books on such an obscure variation. A line such as this would be given maybe a line or two in an opening encyclopedia. Over the years I have seen a book published on just about all of the openings I used to play to “get out of the book,” such as the the Bishop’s opening, “The truth- as it was known in those far-off days,” or so said Dr. Savielly Tartakover in his book, “500 Master Games of Chess.” There were half a dozen books devoted to the BO on the shelves of The Dump. A quick check shows a new one, “The Bishop’s Opening (Chess is Fun)” by Jon Edwards appeared at the end of 2011 in what is called a “Kindle edition.” I have often wondered if it is possible to change a digit on one of those gizmo’s. For example, is it possible to “hack” one of the digital monsters and change one digit in ALL of the digital monsters? Like changing a move for Black from Bd6 to Bb6? Then when your opponent follows “book” and plays his bishop to b6 and loses, he may say something like, “I don’t understand it, Bb6 is the “book” move…” That is when you come from Missouri and say, “Show me.” When he brings out his reading machine you say, “That was not a ‘book’ move, it was a ‘gizmo’ move!”
This book has been on my ’roundtoit’ list since it was published in April: The Extreme Caro-Kann: Attacking Black with 3.f3, by Alexey Bezgodov and published by New In Chess. The books published by NiC are usually exceptional, and from what I have seen, this one is no exception.
Another book on my list is “The Enigma of Chess Intuition: Can You Mobilize Hidden Forces in Your Chess?” by Valeri Beim, published in June of 2012 and also by NiC. I have always been intrigued by those fortunate enough to have chess intuition. I thought I had this book in a box but could not find it: “Secrets of Chess Intuition” by Alexander Beliavsky and Adrian Mikhalchishin. This was published by Gambit way back in 2001. While researching this book online I managed to find it in downloadable form, and it is now a bunch of digits inside Toby, my ‘puter. GM Mikhalchishin was a student of IM Boris Kogan, so who knows, I may find a little of his wisdom passed down therein.
I have many books that came after the flood that are still waiting to be read, so I do not need another chess book. At least that was what I thought until reading the Book Review of June 18, 2014, by Steve Goldberg of “John Nunn’s Chess Course” by John Nunn. “Illuminating and clear, and informative and entertaining.” That is succinct. Steve gives it six stars and you can find it here: http://www.chesscafe.com/Reviews/review943.htm
The last thing I need at my age is any kind of “chess course.” I forget most of what I have learned by game time, so I have to go with what I know, Joe. Memorizing an opening variation is out of the question. But I was hooked after reading the first sentence, “In John Nunn’s Chess Course, Grandmaster John Nunn presents 100 of Emanuel Lasker’s games and twenty-four exercises taken from Lasker’s games.” That is good enough for me. With one of the best chess writer’s of all time, GM John Nunn, writing about the Great Man, Dr. Emanuel Lasker, what is not to like? Above the table where I study chess and Go is a picture of the Great Man himself. It is a color painting of Lasker in a suit, sitting with pen in hand while writing.
Wanting to know more about the book I surfed on over to the Gorilla, finding there were three reviews and a composite score of four and a half stars. Skrolling down showed two reviewers had given the book all five stars, while one had given it only three stars. I read this review last.
The first review was by Derek Grimmell who said, “A games collection both good to read and educational.” It is stated on the page that “20 of 21 people found the following review helpful.”
The next review is by AltitudeRocks, who writes, “Here, here! Or is it “hear here!” (or some other permutation)?” I have no idea what AR means by this, but he did follow it succinctly with, “Reviewer Grimmell deserves five stars for his review, and I cannot improve upon it.” 2 of 3 people found it helpful. Each of these reviewers used a “Kindle Edition” gizmo in lieu of an actual book, but the last reviewer, David, read a paperback, or so it says. The first review appeared May 23, but the two following popped up the same day, June 7.
David writes, “Not really with verbal explanations…” He then proceeds with his review, all of which I present:
“I will not describe the book, since that is done already by the publisher. What I will describe is my impression, and why I give 3 stars to Nunn’s books.
Nunn shows over and over in all his books, that the truth in chess exists. He doesn’t explain “how” to reach it (e.g did he use different engines plus his GM Level evaluation? Or he just analyses everything by himself, and then ask to someone else to check the analysis with an engine? or…? And “how” would the reader reach the same “truth” if he is not at Nunn’s level?), but he shows the faulty analyses of previous commentators, and also many authors who just copied and paste. In his book is shown how some publishers don’t have editors to correct mistakes like when the author of another book writes “Black” and means “White.” Of course shame on those authors, but evidently the chess field is full of snake-oil salesmen. Now, also when Nunn just tries to give a comment, without going into deep analyses, well feel ready to open your computer, and use your database program, because Nunn will go deep to prove the point. Example. I bought the book on Alekhine’s game, written by Alekhine, and with effort I could follow Alekhine’s comments and lines without moving the pieces on the board. With Nunn I cannot do so. The lines he gives are too long to be visualized, and there are many under-lines which need to be checked. (This has been synthesized well, by another reader of the book saying that if one wants analyses 40 plies long, it is just enough to click the engine button)
The real problem with Nunn is that he writes and check his analyses like a scholar, a professor of the field, while most other authors are amateurs trying to make some bucks out of their books. I don’t know if the average player, the one who plays blitz all day long online, and whose favorite authors have IM titles gained long time ago (maybe out of luck) deserve such precise and difficult books.
While I praise Nunn for writing this book, I honestly don’t like it, and I feel cheated by the publisher which writes: “explanation focus on general ideas rather than detailed analysis” This phrase is only partly true. The analysis are detailed like the one of Kasparov in his great predecessor series, and if I had known that, I wouldn’t have bought it.
Still, Nunn’s job is monumental, but as a reader, I don’t really think I will improve, because he made all the analysis, and in the end I can only agree with them, without using much of my brain (also because his analysis are good, and correct, not like the authors mentioned above who just make a copy and paste of other writers before).
The humor is that Nunn choose Lasker, because his games should be easier for the reader to understand.
For example, I’d like to take the first position given in the book. Houdini after 7 minutes, using 4 cpus, goes back from Qxe4 (chosen after 10-15 seconds) to Pc4, to Qxe4, all with numerical evaluations which are ridiculous, like + or – 0.13 or 0.20. Now honestly as reader how would I understand which move is better and why? Not from Nunn who doesn’t explain how he came to choose one over the other. After 12 minutes thinking Houdini at 27 moves deep (54 plies) agrees with the moves played in the game from move 24 to 26, changing move 27. But as a reader, I didn’t learn anything from Houdini, or from Nunn’s analysis, also if they are correct, and once again praise to GM Nunn for such an amazing job. If the publisher after reading this review, wants to give me back the money, I will gladly send the book back! (just add 3.99 for the S&H thanks! something like 20$ total, or just send me another book, so I can sell it and get the money back, because I already know, I will not be able to read this book)” (http://www.amazon.com/John-Nunns-Chess-Course-Nunn/dp/1906454825/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403116508&sr=1-1&keywords=John+Nunn%27s+Chess+Course)
Make of it what you will…Only “2 of 8 people found the review helpful.” I clicked on “David” to find he has reviewed seven different items, six of which he awarded ONE star. Only the Nunn book received more than one star. The other book reviewed by “David” is “The Alekhine Defence: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala.” He asks, “Why Lakdawala hates President Bush?” Then he writes, “I didn’t buy the book, but I was interested in buying it. What stopped me was an offensive political/historical comparison made by Mr. Lakdawala upon President Bush.”
After reading the above you KNOW I was COMPELLED to read the rest!
“Mr. Lakdawala comparison with previous wars made by dictators and self-centered ego maniac like Hitler and Napoleon, is unfair toward President Bush, and should be removed by its publisher Everyman chess.
Thanks to Amazon “Look Inside” feature we can see Mr. Lakdawala political agenda. Mr. Lakdawala begins with a faulty assumption, saying that all history great military failures follow this equation: “temptation + undermining = Overextension.” Of course, Mr. Lakdawala is NOT a historian, and fails to prove the point, showing us if that did actually happen in ALL military failures, or if this is just his opinion, not based on actual research, which I believe is the case.
Mr.Lakdawala continues saying that “the aggressor” please keep in mind this term because will be referred to President Bush too, seizes power and territory (here Mr. Lakdawala forgets 9/11, and the tragedy brought upon United States, and equal the war in Afghanistan, and Iraq to the wars made by Hitler and Napoleon) instead of consolidating gains, the aggressor continues to expand with unbridled ambition (Did President Bush do that Mr. Lakdawala??) and then Mr. Lakdawala finishes his faulty syllogism with: “the aggressor overextends, retreats in disarray, and bungles the war.”
Now we come to the salient part, where Mr. Lakdawala needs to attack President Bush: “If you don’t believe me, just asks Napoleon, Hitler, and Bush how well their campaigns worked for them!”
I’m sorry but I don’t accept that someone compares the imperialist warmongers, like Hitler, and Napoleon, with President Bush, a president elected by hundred of millions of Americans, who had to lead the nation through a terrible tragedy.
First of all, also at superficial level we could notice that Hitler killed himself in a bunker, and one of his strict collaborators, Goebbels, also killed himself with all his family. Then we could notice that most of nazi leaders have been condemned for crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trial, did Bush have the same fate? Have the congress and senate of the United States of America, who voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who has been elected also with the vote of Mr. Lakdawala, have been indicted and put under trial for crimes against humanity? Is United States a country divided in two parts, controlled by China, and some European countries, like it happened to Germany after the end of the Second World War?
Of course I could continue for hours to show the ignorance of politics and history Mr. Lakdawala shows in his light comment, but I believe here there is also a failure from the publisher, and its editors into correcting mr. Lakdawala’s political views, and keep them confined to his blog, his facebook, his twitter, or whatever other forms of social media he uses to communicate with his buddies. A book, about chess, and about a chess opening, should talk about that subject, let’s leave politics, and historical judgments, to those who write in those field as professionals.

Then let’s speak also of the Alekhine defence, an opening who has the name from someone who was a Nazi collaborator, and Mr. Lakdawala, so fond of comparisons with Napoleon, Hitler, and Bush, forgets to mention it. Does really White loses all his games due to overextension? Because if this doesn’t happen, then also the beginning “universal equation” fails. For example did Mr. Lakdawala showed us examples of Houdini, one of the best chess engines, losing a single game against him, due to overextension? No. Mr. Lakdawala fails to show us that. Because a “scholar” of a subject should prove his statements through some statistical analysis. But I don’t find this in his book. In Chessgames.com there are about 1618 games with the Alekhine defence, and they are divided in 37.3% of the times wins by White, 33.1% wins by Black, and a 29.5% draws. This fails to illustrate the point that the “universal” equation works, because in fact we don’t know if White overextended in those 33.1% of the times, but it would have made more sense, than instead of knowing Mr. Lakdawala political agenda against President Bush, his publisher and editors would have steered him toward the realm of chess data, and asked to answer that question.”
My first thought after finishing the above was, “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. David.”
“6 of 24 people found the review helpful.” Did they now? I found it highly entertaining in a Rush Limbaugh kind of way, but helpful? No. Although I have not taken the time to ascertain what the average number is for those clicking on whether or not the review was helpful, it seems to me the total must be something like at least 70%-80% helpful. For “David’s” two book reviews it is 8 out of 32, or 25%. For all seven of his reviews 78 out of 262 considered his reviews “helpful.” That is a batting average of .298 folks, which is 3 out of 10.
If you are still with me you may have surmised that I JUST HAD to go to the page of the book and have a “Look Inside.” I liked the first sentence, “The only openings worth playing are the ones that reflect our inner nature.” As for an author using the military and war to make a point about chess…who would do something like that? Surf on over and read it for yourself.
If you are into chess books there is this interesting article on Chess.com, “Best chess masters biographies?” (http://www.chess.com/forum/view/chess-equipment/best-chess-masters-biographies)